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Raising a teenager: setting goals

This article is part of a series about how we tried to help our teenage son through his secondary school career, using techniques and practices from the workplace. For an overview of all articles, a good place to start is the introduction (Raising a teenager - introduction ), where I set the scene and at links to all subsequent articles.

This specific episode is about setting goals.

How the story unfolded

As I explained in the introduction to this article series, my son had indicated that he had honestly hoped for a better result at school. We did not push him in any way to make a statement like that. And so we found ourselves in a place where you really love to be as a starting point: he showed a genuine involvement with his performance at school, and a sincere commitment to improve on it. As a parent (or a coach), that makes it really easy to sit down with your kid and have an open conversation about his wishes, desires, ambitions and struggles.

So that is what we did. We asked the obvious questions:

  • What were his expectations?

  • Why did he think he did not manage to entirely meet them like he wanted?

  • In his mind, what next result would make him happy?

  • What did he deem necessary to get to that result?

  • What help would he need from us to achieve that result?

As the initiative for that conversation actually came from my son, this turned out to be a very easy conversation. He is a smart kid, who never had to really study in primary school. He realised that he was still in this primary school mindset where “just being there” was all it took for him to get awesome grades. He knew that he would have to put a bit more effort in to remain at those same levels and told us he was convinced that he would figure that out by himself.

All in all, he did score more than average. Because he also showed clear motivation and commitment, we decided to go along with that and just focus on setting some clear goals. Aware of the fact that setting too many goals is not very effective, we just decided to focus on only 3 subjects, but also tried to define good SMART goals for each. We even documented them in Confluence:

Screenshot 2021-11-21 at 17.28.29.png

Although it’s in dutch, you can see how we tried to make things measurable and also put some effort in defining the actions that would be necessary to become successful.

What worked

During the next term, my son was successful on one of his 3 goals. He even scored 80% there instead of the desired 75%. However, he failed to achieve the other two at that time and his overall result was worse than during the first term.

But the good thing was that he had (more than) achieved one of his goals. We did reward him for that, and also grabbed the opportunity to discuss with him why he had done so well on this one subject and not on the other two. That created the perfect foundation to apply that knowledge and motivation to the other subjects too. By the end of his first year, his overall result ended up well above all the goals he set himself. And that really pleased us all very, very much.

Some lessons we learnt

A teenager’s brain is still in full development. Planning and organising in particular are skills that take (a lot of time) to evolve. We did underestimate the impact of that when we agreed to let our son take care of all the steps he needed to take. And that was one of the main reasons why initially he managed to reach only one of his goals, while everything else got worse.

However, he had defined his own goals. Writing them down and being there for him with support and advice was a key to reach a better overall result by the end of the year. Letting him try and partially fail created a platform for us all to learn from what went wrong (again) and grow even more than expected.

There was a huge amount of trust and psychological safety to try things out. For us - as parents - there was a great deal of comfort because our son’s result was not bad at all in the beginning and he showed proof of true motivation all by himself. That led us to give him space and time to try things out. For him, that meant not being chased or controlled all the time, while he still knew that help was available when needed.

How this relates to the workplace

Setting goals has always been part of the recurring practices of virtually every organisation I have seen throughout my professional career. But not very often team members at all levels of an organisation get empowered to own their own objectives. Yet, it is exactly that aspect of my son’s story that was the main driver of his successful first year.

While frameworks like OKR's are obviously gaining traction, they are not easy to implement. In a (larger) organisation, letting employees define their own goals requires the organisation to give proper direction first. It also takes time and space to talk with and - even more importantly - listen to the people in your team. By creating that space and time, as well as a climate where it is safe to express that you feel certain things could be improved, a fertile ground for growth can be created.

While not entirely part of the goal setting process itself, creating an environment where it is safe to fail is of major importance. When your team members know that failing is part of a learning experience rather than something you get punished for, there is room for candid discussions about growing as a person, as well as a team.

An invitation to discuss

Have you tried to introduce goal setting practices from the workplace to Team Home in a formal or less formal way? How did that go? Or - from the opposite angle - do you feel engaged in and with the goal setting process at work? Does it help you and your team thrive or not? I'd love to hear your stories!

Next up ...

In the next episode, I will discuss some of the “scrum at home” experiments we did to improve my son’s planning and transparency issues. I’m aiming for December 6th for that!



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Christine P. Dela Rosa
Atlassian Team
Atlassian Team members are employees working across the company in a wide variety of roles.
Nov 22, 2021

When I was a teenager I had to hate it when other people gave me goals. I wished that my volleyball or track coaches let us pick the standard. I wished that our standardized tests didn't have minimum levels to prove ourselves. I wished that my parents didn't set so many expectations without my input. But did I make any for myself? I don't recall if I did lol.

One thing I did do was break down goals imposed on me (by teachers, coaches, parents, etc) so that I could pace myself to achieve the end goal. I didn't get good at that until university, but I had a lot of failures in primary school that told me I needed to learn how to create small milestones in order to not rush last minute.

The fact that your son is an active participant in goal-setting AND documentation is rad, @Walter Buggenhout! I know at work when I'm involved in goal-setting, I'm a lot more motivated to achieve because I'm invested. I'm impressed by your "family team" and think that your son is creating good habits through all of this that will him in well into adulthood.

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Walter Buggenhout
Community Leader
Community Leader
Community Leaders are connectors, ambassadors, and mentors. On the online community, they serve as thought leaders, product experts, and moderators.
Nov 22, 2021

I must admit that I am a major champion at getting things done last minute. Although I know that it is much more comfortable and that it reduces stress when you are ready well in time, I very often seem to need that bit of pressure to really perform at my best. It would have saved me many sleepless nights if I had been a little bit more foreseeing at times, I guess! 🤔

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